Despite boasting a young, nascent roster and a head coach whose first year was an unmitigated success, the Phoenix Suns apparently won't do any better in the Western Conference standings next season, according to an ESPN panel.
ESPN rolled out its Western Conference "Summer Forecast" on Tuesday, and its panel projected the Suns to come up ninth in the whole conference in 2014-15 -- in other words, the same place they finished last season.
The expert panel consists of more than 210 members who contribute in some form to ESPN's NBA coverage.
Not only do the panelists think the Suns won't move up in the standings, but they also predict three fewer wins, which would mean a 45-37 finish for Jeff Hornacek's group.
Phoenix has lost starting power forward Channing Frye as well as bench players Ish Smith and Dionte Christmas this summer, but has added point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Anthony Tolliver and draft picks T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Alec Brown.
It remains to be seen what happens with Eric Bledsoe, who hasn't signed a qualifying offer or a long-term extension with the team yet. The uncertainty surrounding his return could have affected how the panelists felt about Phoenix's success next year, but no rationale is given as to each team's placement; perhaps some saw Frye's departure as a big blow to the Suns' efficiency.
As far as how the rest of the conference shakes out, Oklahoma City and San Antonio lead the pack at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. ESPN has the Houston Rockets making the biggest drop among playoff teams from No. 4 last year to eighth next season, while the Dallas Mavericks make a significant jump from eighth to fifth. All of last year's playoff teams will make it to the postseason again, according to the panelists, and most of them will finish in a similar spot as last year.